In Brief

Coronavirus: why the WHO is warning of a third Covid-19 wave in Europe next year

UN health agency’s pandemic envoy cautions against lifting lockdown restrictions too early

Europe may face a third deadly wave of coronavirus in early 2021 if governments lift lockdown measures too early, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Covid-19 envoy has warned.

Speaking to Swiss newspaper Solothurner Zeitung, Dr David Nabarro said that governments had “missed building up the necessary infrastructure during the summer months, after they brought the first wave under control”.

“Now we have the second wave. If they don’t build the necessary infrastructure, we’ll have a third wave early next year,” London-born Nabarro continued. “Another element that is very clear in East Asia is that once you have brought down the case number... you don’t relax the measures.”

Describing Europe’s response to the pandemic as “incomplete”, he added: “You wait until the case numbers are low and stay low. You have to prepare the necessary measures to stop future outbreaks.”

European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen has also warned that “some European countries were too eager to lift lockdown measures after the first wave”, Politico reports.

Speaking at an online news conference last month alongside her pandemic special advisor, Belgian virologist Peter Piot, Von der Leyen said that “if you look back, you can see that a lot of things were done in the right direction in the first wave, but obviously the exit strategies were partly too fast, and measures were relaxed too soon”.

A string of European countries are currently battling a second wave of the virus, with nations including the UK, Austria, France, Germany and Italy imposing restrictions of varying severity. However, Boris Johnson is considering relaxing lockdown restrictions in England over the Christmas period to allow limited household mixing.

The results of a series of vaccine trials have raised hopes that an end to the global health crisis may be in sight. 

But Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, cautioned in September that “the vaccine is not going to be the end of the pandemic”.

“The end of the pandemic is going to be when we as people learn to live with the pandemic, and that can begin tomorrow,” he added.

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